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SUPER BOWL XXII : TELEVISION VIEWS : ABC's Telecast Lived Up to the Game, Which May Not Be Saying Much

February 01, 1988|JAY SHARBUTT

NEW YORK — With much more hoopla than accorded the first man to go over Niagara Falls in a beer firkin, ABC Sports unleashed 68 taped replays, more than 70 commercials, including local ones, and 18 plugs for ABC shows in about four hours Sunday.

It also threw in a musicale featuring 44 Rockettes, 88 pianos, a 400-piece swing band and a jowly Chubby Checker, high atop a make-believe jukebox, singing the famous 1960s aria, "Let's Twist Again, Like We Did Last Summer."

The musicale represented the quiet, understated good taste that has become the hallmark of the Super Bowl.

Alas, the main event, a football game between the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos, which ended 42-10 in favor of Washington, proved slightly to the left of whoopee, despite John Elway's first-play, 56-yard touchdown heave for the Broncos.

As Super Bowl XXII wore on, ABC's booth troika of Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf did an admirable job of low-keying the fact that what was afoot was a case of nolo contendere by Denver, although Dierdorf added a touch of excitement in the early minutes when he detected "confusion" in the Redskins' secondary.

But "this is far from even being close to decided," Gifford cautioned a bit later, and when the Redskins scored Touchdown No. 1, he marvelled at "how quickly you can get right back into a football game."

Well, not long after that the ABC blimp gave viewers a shot of cement-mixer trucks that spelled out XXII--Latin for 22--on a construction site near San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. And when Washington scored Touchdown No. 2, Michaels went plumb bozo.

"This has the makings of the Super Bowl we've been waiting 22 years for," he said.

I guess so. I mean, I've never seen a football telecast whose pregame show twice showed a nearly deserted subway station early in the morning in Beijing, China. But that was part of life's rich pageant Sunday on ABC's second Super Bowl since 1985.

Ah, to be in Beijing on Super Sunday.

The Redskins kept getting touchdowns, and Dierdorf, after one second-quarter interception by Washington, actually said, "Frankly, that's just a pass that John Elway should never have let go."

It was kind of fun, though, when director Larry Kamm gave viewers in the United States and those in the 47 other countries getting the show live a shot of a nearly full moon. You don't see that very often except when ABC's "Monday Night Football" show has a nearly full moon.

Kamm's direction of the matter at hand--it was known as a "blowout" in some circles--was crisp and effective, although when the halftime score is 35-10, there is not much a director can do in the next half except pray that not too many happy Redskins stick their faces into the camera and cry, "Hi, Mom!"

The folks in ABC's replay department were kept busy, though. For example, there were three replays of two Redskin touchdowns and two of a Washington delegate named Alvin Walton illegally smiting Elway, for which Walton's team was penalized.

This kept the nolo contendere moderately interesting. But there was not much the boys in the broadcast booth could say when the game stayed so one-sided, and those in ABC's booth seemed to agree. They either emitted mild jokes or dropped back five and cliched.

Indeed, after Dexter Manley of Washington sacked Elway of Denver in the third quarter, Gifford was moved to say that "the Redskins are now in total domination over the Denver Broncos."

It was not exactly a night long on insight or the fresh turn of phrase. There were even times one longed for the Howard Cosell of yesteryear, who might not have had much to say, either, but at least he would have said it in many syllables.

ABC's Super Bowl XXII was a grand night for show-plugging, though; the network plugged its upcoming preview of its new "The Wonder Years" series five times and did the same for its Calgary Winter Olympics telecasts that commence next Sunday.

The commercials, some of which cost up to a record $675,000 for 30 seconds during the game, were moderately interesting, although I still wonder about one of the first ones, which seemed to be selling a small black and white pooch named Spuds McKenzie instead of beer.

Has it come to this that we sell dogs on TV?

If you considered the game that, well, maybe so. But it won't be official until Tuesday, when the A.C. Nielsen Co. national ratings verdict arrives.

If you keep track of such things, the highest audience for the Super Bowl occurred in 1982, when CBS' telecast got a 49.1 rating, representing more than 40 million homes tuned in to San Francisco's 26-21 defeat of Cincinnati.

The omens are not good for Sunday's joust, though. Earlier this month, a New York Times-CBS News poll of 1,239 adults found that 31% wanted Denver to win, 29% favored Washington and 40% didn't know who they wanted to win or--brace yourself--didn't care.

That 40% must not be American. Either that, or they're the sort of people who will voluntarily watch basketball.

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